Play-Doh is one of the most well-known playthings that falls under the category of “artistic” toys. Play-Doh is a clay-like substance (sometimes referred to as a “modeling compound”) that comes in a variety of colors. Sold by Hasbro, Play-Doh is one of the most popular childhood items that almost everyone has some memory of playing with. Play-Doh is non-toxic. It is made of flour, water, boric acid, mineral oil and salt and is therefore harmless even if children ingest it. Since its initial manufacturing nearly 80 years ago, Play-Doh has exploded into popularity and even made the 2003 Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys List.”
Play-Doh was created in the 1930s in Cincinnati, Ohio. Originally it was a pliable and putty-like substance that was made by a man named Noah McVicker who worked for a soap manufacturer. Originally, the substance was intended to be used as a way to clean coal residue from wallpaper but McVicker’s nephew discovered that a nursery school was also using the product to make Christmas ornaments. After World War II, natural gas overtook coal heating and the need for coal (and coal cleaning products) decreased. It was then that McVicker saw a market for his substance in the toy arena.
McVicker remodeled his substance slightly (including making it available in many colorful hues) and marketed it to schools around Ohio in the mid-1950s. The substance was a hit from the start and even appeared at an educational convention in 1956! From there, Play-Doh went on to make appearances on children’s television shows and aired in commercials on channels that were aimed at children or families. Some of the most popular shows that either featured Play-Doh or agreed to air Play-Doh advertisements were “Captain Kangaroo,” “Ding Dong School,” and “Romper Room.” Around the same time, the famous New York department store Macy’s agreed to host in-store demonstrations of Play-Doh. By 1958, Play-Doh’s sales reached almost $3 million dollars.
Play-Doh quickly went international and continues to be enjoyed globally at present. Play-Doh has since expanded to offer more colors and modeling sets (like the famous “Play-Doh Fun Factory”) such as those that can shape Play-Doh into food shapes or animal images. The simple fun of Play-Doh has been enjoyed by many generations of children and it will likely be enjoyed by many more in the future…and it all started because of a need to clean up coal residue!